On Atheism+ and humanism

Jen McCreight over at Free Thought Blogs has created quite a stir in the atheist/freethinking community with a post titled, How I Unwittingly Infiltrated the Boy’s Club & Why It’s Time for a New Wave of Atheism, which has garnered in the neighborhood of 500 responses thus far.

In the post, McCreight laments her experiences with some of the more brutish individuals within the movement and said she was “welcomed with open arms” into the atheist and skeptic community until she started discussing feminism. Perhaps her first mistake was to create “Boobquake,” which was a day (April 26, 2010) for feminist supporters to protest Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi‘s odious comment that women who dressed immodestly were the cause of earthquakes.

As if that weren’t a silly enough suggestion, McCreight’s response was to create a one-day protest that, by itself, seemed to objectify women. On April 19 of that year, she offered a post titled, “In the name of science, I offer my boobs,” and then asked supporters to follow suit on April 26:

On Monday, April 26th, I will wear the most cleavage-showing shirt I own. Yes, the one usually reserved for a night on the town. I encourage other female skeptics to join me and embrace the supposed supernatural power of their breasts. Or short shorts, if that’s your preferred form of immodesty. With the power of our scandalous bodies combined, we should surely produce an earthquake. If not, I’m sure Sedighi can come up with a rational explanation for why the ground didn’t rumble. And if we really get through to him, maybe it’ll be one involving plate tectonics.

So, who’s with me? I may be a D cup, but that will probably only produce a slight tremor on its own.

Since that time, she has seemed stunned by the immaturity and brashness of some within the community. At least she admits she was naive:

Boobquake made me wake up. What I originally envisioned as an empowering event about supporting women’s freedoms and calling out dangerous superstitious thinking devolved into “Show us your tits!” I received sexual invitations from strangers around the country. When I appeared or spoke at atheist events, there was always a flood of comments about my chest and appearance. I’ve been repeatedly told I can never speak out against people objectifying or sexually harassing me because a joke about my boobs was eternal “consent.”

So I started speaking up about dirty issues like feminism and diversity and social justice because I thought messages like “please stop sexually harassing me” would be simple for skeptics and rationalists. But I was naive. Like clockwork, every post on feminism devolved into hundreds of comments accusing me being a man-hating, castrating, humorless, ugly, overreacting harpy.

Adding (in bold):

don’t feel safe as a woman in this community – and I feel less safe than I do as a woman in science, or a woman in gaming, or hell, as a woman walking down the fucking sidewalk.

Of course, as a frequent Counter-Strike player, she damn sure shouldn’t feel safe in many online gaming communities. Pockets of those communities are filled with homophobic, sexist and racist deviants. Thankfully, the more civilized communities among them have numerous administrators online 24/7 that are diligent about banning people who display such crude behavior.

In any case, amid the unsuspected backlash of “Boobquake” — seriously, what did she expect with a name like that? — she is in the creating business again with something she has called Atheism+, dubbing this a “third wave” in the wake of traditional atheist scholarship that has been around for hundreds of years and the “new atheist” movement of Dawkins and Hitchens lore:

It’s time for a wave that cares about how religion affects everyone and that applies skepticism to everything, including social issues like sexism, racism, politics, poverty, and crime. We can criticize religion and irrational thinking just as unabashedly and just as publicly, but we need to stop exempting ourselves from that criticism.

She also seems to criticize modern atheism for being a “Boys Club,” for some reason, presumably forgetting the likes Susan Jacoby, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Julia SweeneyAyaan Hirsi AliJaneane GarafaloPaula Poundstone, Ann Druyan, Margaret Downey and scores of others who came before them:

The Boy’s Club may have historically ruled the movement, but they don’t own it. We can.

One can argue, but I won’t, that this last statement is kind of a reverse sexism. Is McCreight now suggesting that females can and should “own” the movement? I’ll chalk that up to hyperbole on her part.

In her most recent post on the topic, McCreight addresses 10 “misconceptions” about Atheism+, none of which touched on my concerns, which I posited as a comment to her original:

… I didn’t see any evidence to suggest that non-believers are any more or less sexist or potentially offensive than any other group. It’s a little pie in the sky, don’t you think, to expect all atheists to be good people, just like calling yourself a believer doesn’t make you a good person. Quite the opposite in many cases. While working toward equality is commendable — as it always has been — you aren’t going to get it by proclaiming that you have invented a new movement and requesting that these offensive atheists play nice. If you want a perfect society, or even a movement, free of offensive people, you are on the wrong planet.

Adding further:

Feminists, who also happen to be atheists, and their supporters are certainly free to fight it and also fight to reduce the influence of bad apples from the atheist movement (and I fully support that) without inventing new movements when “New Atheism,” if we take Jen’s timescale here, is still in its infancy, while the “first wave” of atheism has thousands of years of scholarship behind it. Seems too soon to be conjuring up new movements based on some anecdotal evidence about some bad experiences with unbalanced individuals who could just as well exist in any movement.

To take the cake, McCreight’s first listed misconception was the similarities between Atheism+ and humanism:

I don’t give a diddly what label you want. Atheist, atheist+, humanist, pastafarian, Supreme Crusher of God-Belief. Whatever. I care more about getting stuff done, and I see the humanists as our natural allies. I just don’t understand why some of them are so cranky that we…what, are saying we agree with their ideals and values? Let’s not let progress get derailed by discussions about labels.

But she did label it and even presented a logo for it. So which is it? Do you want to create a name for a new movement that addresses ills like racism and sexism from an atheistic standpoint or do you want to stick with tried and true humanism? The former seems rather redundant to me.

As Twitter user @AdrianBriggs said:

Fans of #atheismplus, we’ve already got #humanism. If you’re sexist, racist, or homophobic then you’re not much of a humanist.

In the most basic definition of the word, humanism at its core does address racism, sexism, homophobia or anything else that degrades the dignity of humanity in general or individually. It’s not just a rejection of the belief in god:



any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate.

EDIT: “Reverse sexism” above should just be “sexism.”

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

6 Comments on "On Atheism+ and humanism"

  1. Vicky Caramel | August 25, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Reply

    Excellent post

    McCreight et al have a modest following, they are big fish in their small pond. Starting her own movement has gotta be easier route than earning power and influence in Secular Humanism… especially as their gimmick seems to be tossing platitudes into a radical feminism echo chamber.

  2. There's no such thing as "reverse" sexism. Sexism is sexism, whether aimed at a woman or a man. Only the die-hard feminists think otherwise, and they're just as screwed up in the head as the "get in the kitchen and make a sammich" chauvinistic pig.

  3. Oh, and I truly think you are a worthless humanist if you are a racist, sexist, ageist, whatever -ist you want.

  4. My feeling is that the bloggers of the "a+" just do not know much about humanism as a movement.

    If they want to go ahead with it, they need to explain how *exactly* it differs from humanism. I can say you this (as a humanist), humanists are very nuanced people, and they generally think carefully about their positions. I recommend this to people who want to invent a similar, yet significantly different, movement.

  5. Thanks for reading and commenting, and yes, as a couple of you mentioned, feminism and humanism already seem to cover the goals that the A-plus folks seem to have in mind. Maybe I'm cynical, but it seems like creating A-plus (and as you notice, numerous Free Thought Bloggers have hopped on the bandwagon) is just a way to say that their own in-group has actually accomplished something meaningful or different. Again, pie in the sky. (For some reason, I couldn't use the "plus" symbol in the comment section.)

  6. nohellbelowus | August 28, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply

    Well written, and well done.

    A better name for the new movement is "Atheism-PUS"… because as the self-appointed, delusional white blood cells of our era, it appears Jen McCreight and Co. are in the process of creating, and ultimately inhabiting, a small, pus-filled ZIT on the face of New Atheism. This unsightly pimple will hopefully soon pop, and vanish, leaving Richard Dawkins (and the sane) in peace, to continue the important fight against the poisonous influence of religion.

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